Stevens’ poem Sunday Morning represents the fundamental human struggle over faith. The symbolism in the poem is prevalent in its relation to defining the role of God in a Christian capacity and lack of belief in that God. The start of the poem presents the reader with an image of a woman. Stevens uses an array of color and setting to create imagery in the poem with such phrases as “green freedom” and “coffee and oranges” in order to twine the corporeal with the mundane (i. e.
“holy hush of ancient sacrifice” and “complacencies of the peignoir and late coffee and oranges in a sunny chair”). Stevens is suggesting that the woman, instead of going to Church on Sunday, has stayed home, yet divines of a “silent Palestine”, which alludes to the celestial struggle over God in the poem. The second section or stanza of Stevens’ poem portrays a masculine voice who questions, “Why should she give her bounty to the dead? / What is divinity if it can come / Only in silent shadows and dreams? ”.
Here Stevens is relating to the reader an extension of his faith question and asking why there should be such importance based on a religious icon, a thing that is only an image. The third stanza travels into a type of etymology or history of the conceptualization of divinity, as the poem’s section begins, “Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth”. Thus, the reader picks up the idea of movement in the poem; the movement from Greece to Palestine; or, in the history of the Christian God, Stevens is alluding to the religious movement from polytheism to monotheism.
In Greece, many different Gods and Goddesses were worshipped, but with the implementation of Emperor Constantine, the practice of monotheism became popular. Stevens is suggesting in this section the dominant question of moving past monotheism, “Shall our blood fail? ”. The theory of unification is further written by Stevens by his suggesting that this could be the time of “the blood of paradise”. The use of language is intricate in this section, but despite its verbosity, Stevens manages to point the reader into a singular direction: where is religion going?
In the fourth section Stevens goes back to the feminine voice, and then the masculine voice. With these two perspectives, Stevens is creating a contrary point of view and a tension in the poem as one voice constantly questions the other’s point of view. The female voice wants to know where paradise will be found without birds, and the masculine voice responds, “There is no haunt of prophecy …Remote in heaven’s hill, that had endured As April’s green endures; or will endure”. The masculine voice is stating that everything changes, and does not last.
The imagery that Stevens uses to express this idea are common motifs in the Christian religions (i. e. greening earth, prophecy, grave, cloudy palm), and by using them in this context Stevens is making a direct strike on Christian religion. The fifth stanza returns to the feminine voice, who has not been waylaid, and continues to question the masculine voice. This stanza makes many allusions to death, while the masculine praises death; the feminine and masculine twined, create a relationship between death and desire which is quite prevalent in Stevens’ words.
The stanza is suggesting that change is always needed, so death is an integral part of the universe. In the final stanzas Stevens suggests a change in religious practice. Stevens proposes a pagan practice, “a ring of men” chanting “in orgy on a summer morn”. In the final images of the poem however it may be surmised that Stevens is truly suggesting a pairing of masculine and feminine, or pagan and Christian, of life and death.
Stevens, W. Sunday Morning. Online. Accessed: August 1, 2007. http://www. web-books. com/classics/Poetry/Anthology/Stevens_W/Sunday. htm